Cheer up, it might never happen
WHEN you live inside the football bubble – and believe me, when you work in the game, you really do live inside it – it’s easy to think it is a game apart, nothing like all other sports. In fact the truth is rather different for professional sport carries plenty of similarities across its many disciplines.
I noticed this on Sunday morning when the changing of the clocks meant getting up at the ungodly hour of seven – which was really six – to watch the Malaysian Grand Prix. It’s a further truism that you wouldn’t see me getting up at that time for football any more, not until Sky decree that we start playing games then anyway, but I digress.
In the aftermath of a surprising win for Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari, their technical director, James Allison, was interviewed. After a dry spell of almost two years for the Prancing Horse, he was clearly emotional, but not sufficiently so that he couldn’t speak with great clarity.
"This sport is mainly misery but every now and then you get an incredible rush that makes it all worthwhile."
Allison, you’ve said a mouthful lad.
The truth is that most sport has become like that, increasingly so as the years go by, because everywhere you look, right across the sporting spectrum, the stakes are getting higher, the pressure is ratcheted up and the lines between sport being something that we look to for fun and it being something that defines us are ever more blurred, such that rather than being an escape from the drudgery of real life, sport in general, football in particular, has become that real life.
Those of you who have suffered the grave misfortune of listening to my summarising alongside the long suffering John Dunn on Albion Radio – available in the stadium on matchdays on 106.9FM as well as online thrill seekers – will have doubtless heard me trot out the line, “It’s only football, we’re not curing cancer.”
I accept that is a line that I can trot out with the luxury of being a supporter rather than a player or coach whose job is on the line, but it’s a line that I think applies to us fans too, because aren’t we in danger of taking this whole thing too seriously? This is what we do with our leisure time after all, shouldn’t we be enjoying it, even if our team, whoever they may be, doesn’t always give us reason to do so?
Allison’s comments put me in mind of “Match of the Day” a week or so ago, watching Tottenham playing Leicester. Spurs were a couple of goals to the good at the time when the ball dropped for Chadli, who spurned an admittedly golden opportunity by screwing it wide of goal.
As Chadli put his hands to his head, there behind the goal, amid the Spurs fans, who were generally less than pleased anyway, was one fella who was apoplectic, his eyes out on stalks, his face contorted into a mask of rage, screaming a volley of expletives that would make a docker blush, giving his own player a far greater face full of aggression than he’d turn on an opponent.
Certainly the character of support has changed over the years. Once upon a time, your players could do no wrong, every goal we scored was a cracker, every one conceded was because of a foul or was offside. One eyed didn’t begin to explain it, and rightly so. That was a culture that led us to revere not just the obvious suspects like Brown, Astle, Johnston, Regis et al, but to look up to the journeymen too.
Even now when people think back down the years, it’s rarely with anything but affection whereas the current crop at whichever club you care to name are, with rare exceptions, tolerated at best and hammered at worst. There are all kinds of reasons for it, the economics of football perhaps the biggest culprit, but isn’t it odd to think that we pay ever increasing sums of money just to be miserable?
It might do us all good to remember that even in defeat, football remains a game and a chance to celebrate life, while a plane flying into a mountain is a tragedy. And to not get those two emotions mixed up.
I hadn’t really thought of it in those terms until Allison’s interview. Shows what you can learn from other sports if you pay a bit of attention doesn’t it?